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A Chinese national waits with his passport to disembark a plane at Phnom Penh International Airport late last month
A Chinese national waits with his passport to disembark a plane at Phnom Penh International Airport late last month. Scott Howes

Green-lit airlines target China

Cambodia's aviation authority yesterday approved operations for the first of three Chinese market-focused airlines, all of which are expected to take to the skies by the end of the year.

The State Secretariat of Civil Aviation granted an Airline Operations Certificate (AOC) to Apsara International Air (AIA) – owned jointly by private Chinese and Cambodian investors – after a more than yearlong application process.

“Safety is our most serious concern, and we must maintain our commitment to the safe operations of new airlines in Cambodia,” Chea Aun, undersecretary of state for the SSCA, said during the approval ceremony, which ended with a champagne toast.

AIA will initially commence domestic flight operations between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap with a single Airbus A320, according to CEO Zhang Xiao Peng. However, the Chinese-backed firm has ambitious expansion plans.

“We’ll start domestic flights around September 20,” Peng said. “Beginning next year we will start flights from Cambodia to China. In 2015 we will fly from Cambodia to 25 cities in China. Then in 2016 and 2017 we will expand our destinations to Japan and Korea and by the year 2019, we estimate we will have up to 50 aircraft.”

Yesterday’s SSCA approval of AIA is only the beginning, according to Mok Sam Ol, chief flight operations inspector at the SSCA, who confirmed that two more approvals would be made by December.
“[B]oth Bassaka Air and Bayon Airlines will be approved by the end of the year also,” Sam Ol said.

Bassaka Air, a startup that has partnered with travel agency China International Travel Services, aims to commence flights from Phnom Penh to China with two Airbus A320s as early as this month.

Meanwhile, Cambodia Bayon Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of local company Bayon Holdings, has received an undisclosed investment from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China to launch a new Cambodian carrier.

Like Apsara, Bayon plans to first commence domestic flight operations – by December with two Xian Aircraft Industry Company MA60 aircraft – before expanding its fleet and destinations to China.

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